Monday, January 4, 2010

Assorted Observations From the 2009 Meeting of the Eastern Division of the American Philosophical Association

A. When on the job market, it is more fun to attend the meeting with interviews scheduled than without. This was my first time attending with an interview scheduled. It was also the first time I didn't want to gouge my eyes out. Coincidence? I think not.

B. It is more fun to attend the meeting when off the market than when on.

C. When off the market, it is more fun to not attend the meeting than to attend.

D. I spoke to one of the people running the placement service. She told me that 428 people signed up to use the service. She also told me that in a typical year over 600 people sign up to use the service. She told me this was the worst year she could remember.

E. A senior member of my Ph.D.-granting department who first went on the market in the middle 70s told me that he had never seen such a terrible job market. We had a very small number of candidates who managed to get any interviews at all, and several departments much higher than us in the PGR didn't do much better.

F. I didn't stay at the conference hotel. I stayed with a friend a half-hour subway ride away. This was less convenient, but not so much so that it would have been worth $130 a night or whatever. It seems to me that this is the way to go.

G. However, I took the time to ride the elevator up to the 45th floor and back. Totally awesome.

H. I honestly do not see the point of holding interviews at the APA. It's expensive for everyone involved, including interviewing departments, but is expensive in a particularly unfair way to the applicants. Although interviewing in person feels better than the alternatives, I don't see any reason to think it's better in a way that makes up for its obvious drawbacks. I propose phone/skype interviews or bringing more people in for campus visits.

I. I had a nice time talking to my interviewers at the smoker. It was a pretty weird interaction, though. I tried to find a time when they weren't talking to anyone else, and it didn't work at all. There were always at least two other people chatting with them. Plus, I'm nonchalantly walking past their table every 20 minutes or so, not making eye contact, checking to see if they're available. Or else I'm standing with my back to them a few yards away, chatting with a friend who's facing them, asking if they're still occupied every few minutes or so. Highly weird. I ended up joining a larger group than I was comfortable with. It worked out okay, though. I think.

J. I have no idea how my interview went. I've spent the time since trying not to think about it.

K. Some schools who had already rejected me were accepting on-site requests for interviews, so I thought about reapplying. This called to mind a key scene from A Few Good Men: "I apply!" "Rejected." "No, no. I strenuously apply." "Oh, well maybe I should take some time to reconsider."

--Mr. Zero


Anonymous said...

Regarding G: the rotating fancy pants palace at the top of the 45th floor was the highlight of my trip.

15$ for a martini and a gorgeous rotating view of Manhattan? Totally worth it. Schlepping down to an awkwardly lit second smoker and paying 10$ for a Bud and a ballroom full of exhausted, anxious and (many) unemployed philosophers? Totally not.

If my future didn't depend on it, I would have kept my pretty perch on the 45th, gladly shelling out an extra 5 bucks a drink just to feel like a princess. Instead, I lurked and skulked around certain tables as instructed (see I above) and felt like a troll.

zombie said...

I was advised, years ago, by my dept placement advisor to avoid the APA unless I had interviews. And so I have. This was my first time. I arrived a few hours before my interview, then left promptly thereafter to go home. All in all, not a bad experience, although pricey. But I have ever since wondered if I should have stayed for the smoker. Which would have meant staying overnight. Which would have been a drag for me, since I wanted to go home and do other stuff during my brief foray back in the States.
Maybe it's the bad job market, but I always kind of imagined the APA meeting to be more nightmarish, crowded, noisy, and desperate than I found it to be. Perhaps having diminished expectations worked in my favor.

Aristophanes Hiccups said...

As to H, it makes sense if candidates have more than one interview scheduled. This way the candidate does not have to go off to multiple destinations (on her dime no less). Most school budgets are strapped so more fly-ins is unlikely and would probably lead to fewer jobs since the entire hiring process is expensive. Skype would be a great idea but schools are slow to come around, notice how few of them use online applications.

Anonymous said...

I had a couple of interviews at the APA. At the time I felt like they went really well - we were laughing and enjoying ourselves during the interview, I could answer all of the questions and followups, and so forth. And at the Smoker, the conversations were friendly and relaxed and members of the SC at my schools spent quite a bit of time talking up their department and their locations.

And now I'm sitting here trying to read the tea leaves and trying to figure out what are signs and what those signs point to.

I'd probably be better served trying to put it out of mind and working on my dissertation and job talk (ever the optimist!). But instead I'm replaying conversations and friendly banter, looking for any indications that I'll get called for an on-campus in the coming weeks.

(General question: *are* there good signs that you'll be called for an on campus? Is it just useless to try to figure out their intentions based on conversations and moods?)

Xenophon said...

I've thought about reapplying for positions that rejected me. Just to give them a little more work rejecting me again, for spite. I've also wondered whether maybe they wouldn't recall my application from before.

More interestingly, I've been at this long enough to se a number of jobs that I applied for and got rejected for in previous years reposted when the person they picked over me left for greener pastures. I'm inclined to think "ah, if you'd picked me you wouldn't need to be going through this again" because some of those were jobs I really wanted. But I'm sure trolls would reply that the fact I wouldn't have moved on is a sign that I wasn't the best candidate. Academia has a weird masochistic streak, where some people only want things that are bad for them, or seek those most sure to reject them.

zombie said...

See Carl Elliott's post on "How the APA Stole Christmas."

Written 3 years ago, it pretty much states what many of us think/feel about the meeting. His proposal: Avoid the circus/charade of APA interviews, immediately winnow the candidates down to 5 and bring them to campus. He thinks you can't learn much from a brief in-person interview anyway. I guess the question is how much you can learn from just a job dossier.

SCs need to get with the times and embrace technology. I had two phone interviews last year, one of which landed me my fellowship (which has been quite a good fit all around), and one of which eliminated me from the running (which made sense, b/c I wasn't really qualified for all aspects of that job at that point). Seems to me the phone interviews had the intended effect, they were less stressful, more civilized, and cost very little.

Anonymous said...

Some form of compressed video/Skype is the only way to go for initial interviews. I was a doubter, but several excellent hires on my campus over the past few years convinced me otherwise. You really can get a sense of the candidate in terms of fit, and it's way less expensive and time-consuming than the APAs.

BTW if you are lucky enough to land a TT job, the smokers are also just a great way to stay in touch with old friends and meet other philosphers. (Take it from someone who dates back to the days where people actually smoked in smokers--though I'm glad those days are gone.) And I share everyone's outrage about the cost of potables--inexcusable.

FemPhil said...

I want to echo Anon. 10:23's question: *are* there good signs that you will be called for an on-campus interview?

I, similarly, had a couple of interviews at the APA that I felt went swimmingly: I had the sense that I had a good rapport with the committee, and I felt prepared to answer all of their questions. Neither of my schools participated in the Smoker (I notice that SLAC's tend not to do so), so I have nothing to add from this...but all in all, I felt good coming out of the interviews. Still, since there are so many extremely qualified people interviewing, I have no reason to believe that this a unique experience. Does anyone with prior experience interviewing at the APA have insight to share?

Anonymous said...

I know a number of people who are seriously awkward in phone conversations, coming across at best as incapable of normal conversation and at worst as stupid, but who show none of these symptoms in face-to-face conversations. Such people might not fare too well if departments switched to phone/Skype interviews. And it is perhaps worth noting that the ability to interact well face-to-face will presumably figure more prominently in an academic career than the ability to interact well in phone conversations.

Not that I'm sure that I want to defend the current system -- I just think there might be some costs to switching to phone interviews that are worth bearing in mind.

4 yrs and counting said...

Regarding interviews "feeling good", I have talked to at least 80 people after APA interviews over the last 6 years or so. My guess is that roughly half think they went great. Another very sizable chunk would say good to OK. I can only remember a few ever saying they blew the interview.

Of course, they may just say this to other candidates to look good, but I think very few interviews go terribly bad from the candidate's perspective.

(Interviews at high pressure research jobs may be completely different.)

Anonymous said...

As a recently tenured faculty member: I was on the market for 4 years (2002-5), I can tell you this. There is no way to tell if an interview went well. People from the midwest are so nice that you think they are going to offer you the job on the spot. It doesn't mean they are.

Most of the people you interview with know life is hard and getting a job is even harder. For the most part, people will be nice to you, and you will have nothing to go on other than. That seemed to go well.

Sit back and wait for their schools to start. If you haven't heard anything after the first week of their classes starting, you are more than likely not going to campus.

As 3 out of 15 aren't good odds, but at least you had a shot. I know lots of people who never got APA interviews.

Polacrilex said...

Re: signs that you will get an on-campus interview.

Last year I was told at the Smoker that I would be invited to an on-campus interview. I was. That's about the only real sign there is. If you have not heard anything since the interview, it is best to stop speculating about it. If they are going to invite you, they'll let you know. The wait sucks, but there is no magic formula to figure out how much they liked you. Remember, they are sitting around reviewing their notes, discussing all of your strengths and weaknesses, noting how you if you used the snooty pronunciation of "aunt"...

Perhaps it's best to convince yourself that you will not get an on-campus interview. That way you can get on with your work, and if you get that interview, then it's a welcome surprise.

zombie said...

Anon 2:15 -- it's just as likely that there are qualified people who do badly in face-to-face, high pressure job interviews, but would do fine as professors and interlocutors in an academic setting. The bottom line is that no system is perfectly suited to every individual, and there's no way around that. The virtue of a phone/skype/video interview is that it spares the job candidate the considerable expense of traveling to an annual meeting during Christmas week in an expensive city. There are not many jobs that actually require the applicant to incur such an expense, particularly for the convenience of institutions that have a lot more money than an unemployed philosopher. I traveled from Canada, and drove two days because I could not afford to fly. For me and my family, it became a chance to have a brief vacation back in our old hometown, which helped us justify the expense. But between the gas, hotels, bus fare to NYC, and registration at APA, I still spent a pretty penny for a single job interview.

Anonymous said...

I had a couple awkward phone interviews that I was sure would be the end of it, but both institutions wound up inviting me to campus. While there may be cases where you can know your interview went well or poorly (or where fit or lack thereof was revealed), my sense is that it's really hard for the candidate to know the score.

I second the endorsement of Skype interviews; I had one of those last year, and I found it much less awkward than interviews with the committee huddled around a speaker phone.

Anyhow, waiting sucks, but those of you waiting on word from an APA interview are very fortunate in this awful year!

Anonymous said...

Re: signs that you will get an on-campus interview.

I was once told at a smoker that I would get an on-campus interview and then DID NOT. After being on search committees myself, I can see how this happens. The moral of the story: there are NO good signs until the official call for an on-campus interview comes in.

Anonymous said...

Anon 4:55 is on the mark. Many of us spend too much energy looking at the interview from the perspective of philosopher to philosopher and what happens on our campus (SLAC) has a bit to do with philosophy and more to do with administration and $. The Dean really has more to say than anyone and s/he is not at the APA. Publications go out the door for teaching and administrative promise and basic cost factors that the Dean has calculated and are a mystery to the SC rule the day. There is very little chance we can overcome administrative considerations.

m.a. program faculty member said...

Don't forget that most departments/people on search committees go into the APA with their candidates already roughly ranked, based on your pubs, sample, teaching portfolio, etc.

Most departments (at least if they're smart) don't overweigh the APA interview; it's only one factor among many. I think it's more common for the APA interview to be used as a 'rule out' screen for head cases or folks who are totally inarticulate. Secondary uses can be to break ties in close calls or to answer particular questions regarding individual applicants that the paper apps. leave open.

So you can have an outstanding APA interview and still not get an on-campus interview. Let's say you were in the 10-12 group heading into the APA. Four people ahead of you totally bomb their interviews and are ruled out. And your good interview gives you the edge among the folks in your 'grouping.' That still puts you just at #6, with no on-campus interview. You're still ranked well below Candidate X, who was ranked #2-3 going into the APA, with a stronger publication record and an area of research that excites the search committee more than yours does. He had an OK but not great interview, but the committee decides that that doesn't detract from him still being one their top choices.

Anonymous said...

So, given what m.a. prof said, if you have a competitive cv (strong pubs, interesting research line) and you thought that you interviewed very well, you can feel positive about your chances for getting called for a fly-out.

m.a. program faculty member said...

Anon 11:08 AM: Well, yeah, but even with a competitive cv, you don't know where you stand relative to the other candidates who got an APA interview.

Anonymous said...

There have been many APA interviews where I thought I did very well, and never heard back from them. On the other hand, the interview I thought I really bombed netted me an on-campus and a job...

Anonymous said...

I'm anon 10:23, from near the beginning of the thread. Thought I'd update and say that I just got invited to an on campus from one of the schools that I had mentioned in the comment. So sometimes interviews that you think go well do, in fact, go well!

BunnyHugger said...

I agree very much with H, and with zombie's response to anon 2:15. Yes, some people feel awkward during phone interviews. Some people feel awkward during APA interviews too, what with the whole sitting at a table in a ballroom full of nervous people doing the same thing, and that awkwardness probably says little about their merits as a philosopher. I have had lots of both in-person and phone interviews and they seem to roughly cover the same ground and I doubt there's much learned from one and not the other, except perhaps whether I'm good looking or not.

Some years ago, I was invited to a campus interview (without preliminaries) around the time that most schools were inviting for APA interviews. I expressed my surprise and was told they had decided the APA was a waste of time and they were just inviting out three finalists. I wish more schools thought like that, or at least saw the wisdom of phone interviewing.

Anonymous said...

Anon 10:23--congratulations!

so, I take it that schools are now starting to call. I imagine that there are signs, good and bad, that are evidence of whether one will get an on-campus. However, they are very, very weak, so not worth thinking about.

How about a thread(s) on on-campus interviewing? Specifically, how about a thread on teaching components of on-campus interviewing. Although I've taught plenty, I have no idea what works in these canned sessions that are populated by faculty and students one has no long-term relationship with (yet). Thoughts? Advice? Help, please!

btw, this is not hypothetical, as I got lucky enough to get an interview. The APA initial interview seemed pretty good--interesting/fun conversation--but I cringe remembering a couple of answers.

good luck to everyone!

Anonymous said...

Modest proposal: can we make it a habit of adding a comment on the Phylo wiki when a change of status is made? I see too many "accidental" status changes, that I'm not sure if I should be anxiety-ridden or not when a status changes w/o comment. Either way, some confirmation that the post is legit would be cool, so I know whether to take the LSAT.

Anonymous said...

Given some of the comments about when one should start to worry, I wanted to add my recent experience. I've been given a time-frame from 2 SC members. (long story why, it was unofficial.) The one said they would contact candidates in the end of January, the other said early to mid-February. That's a lot later than I would have expected. Don't start to worry just yet!

Anonymous said...

Also going along with anon 5:30's request for an on-campus thread.

In addition to how to handle the teaching component of the on-campus, I'm curious about what sorts of questions should we ask the administrators and what should we expect them to ask us.

This is the time to get clear about salary, sabbaticals, research budget, and so forth. Who do we talk about this with? When we talk with the dean? With the search committee? Are there still some no-no questions because they're too presumptuous?

Newbie said...

Anon 10:23,

I'm a Junior TT who had two job offers in one year. The program from which I came is negligibly recognized at best.

Regarding the teaching talk I think that at least two aspects are important: 1) clarity and insight in both your grasp of the material and communicating it to the students; 2) Having a certain presence in the classroom: connecting with the students at some level.

I think that '1)' is important because your interviewers will be looking for both your grasp of the material (from their oftentimes limited yet opinionated perspectives) and on how well you communicate with the students. So, dumbing it down will not get you far. I think that the best way to communicate it to the students is to be very clear, rhetorically sound, and motivate the issue sufficiently. It helped me with one of my on-campus interviews that some students mobbed me after class to ask some more follow up questions, but it would have been ineffectual if my interviewers had thought that I was spewing tripe in my lecture.

Regarding '2)', have a clear, strong voice, make eye contact, use examples (not stupid ones to pander to the idiocy of the students, please!), make smooth hand motions (key for proper locution), be relaxed and in control of the situation. Take questions from students but do not be overly dependent on questions (many times they will be shy and won't have many). If you can get a bit of an interesting discussion going will give you many points if it is not perceived as being vacuuous (many profs will rightly think of your role as imparting knowledge and not just polling students intuitions or thoughts). A clear handout is great.

Practice it by giving it at least once to someone who is smart but not a philosopher. Be structured in the progress of your points but you must also extend your points as you catch wind of some insights as you expand on the topic. If you do this, there will be a sense of excitement that people will pick up on.

Also, choice of topic is very important. I once had a teaching talk in which the material that I was teaching (something in the history of philosophy) was something that my interviewers had taught a million times, and they each had their own opinions on it. In this case, you cannot win! It is better to have a little bit of a more obscure topic; you can exploit this to your advantage by educating your interviewers on the topic as well.

Hope this helps!

JMc said...

Re: on-campus teaching...I don't think it hurts to ask if you can send ahead a brief article that the class will be structured around or at least some questions for them to think about.

The students probably won't read an article, but it at least gives you something to work with and is going to be a more realistic teaching experience than just talking to them without any sort of text to work with.

Also, it probably would be helpful to ask what courses the majors are currently taking in the department and what they've been reading and discussing. This'll make it easier to connect with the students as well.

And in terms of when to expect a call for an on-campus visit, I'd say early Feb would be fairly typical. The committee has to meet again after the APA and what can really take time is getting the paperwork through the administration. Our institution has never, to my knowledge, overridden a SC preferences for who to bring to campus, but we do have to wait until it goes all the way up the decision-making ladder to the Provost to actually get official permission and there's no way I'd ever tell someone that they were going to get an invite unless I had official permission to do so.

Anonymous said...

Don't get too excited about securing an on-campus might end up at an institution furloughing its faculty. Check out the news over at Leiter on University of Illinois' three campuses. While it's part of a larger state budget crisis, I thought I'd take a look at the publication records of some of the most junior faculty at UIC and lo and behold, most have not published a thing in the past two years. Maybe they need a real furlough (not just a de facto pay cut), some time off from teaching to do a little research and writing.

Anonymous said...

Thanks! That's really helpful; all plausible and implementable. It helps me wrap my head around a new format.

Thanks also--that's useful information.

sickened said...

I thought I'd take a look at the publication records of some of the most junior faculty at UIC and lo and behold, most have not published a thing in the past two years.

Wow, that is straightforwardly slanderous.
And disgusting.

I agree with the tolerance of anonymity here at the Smoker, but it sure does have its costs.

Anonymous said...

Anon 10:12:

I wouldn't worry about getting hired than furloughed at an Illinois campus. Today's furlough announcement was accompanied by an announcement of a hard and immediate hiring freeze. Those jobs are almost certainly gone, even if the wikis don't yet reflect that.

(deep sympathy to those who were still in the running for those positions)

Asstro said...

"re: on-campus teaching...I don't think it hurts to ask if you can send ahead a brief article that the class will be structured around or at least some questions for them to think about."

It may not hurt to ask, but I think it's a risky strategy. I once distributed an article for an on-campus teaching demonstration. The professor whose class I was teaching assured me that the students would read it. (Maybe they would've but I wouldn't bank on it.) She distributed the article through a secure site, which encrypted it somehow, and none of the students could access the content. They just got a file of gobbledygook. Lucky me, there were no ass-kissers thoughtful enough to report the technical glitch to the professor.

What happened? Nobody read anything. I was fucked, standing up in front of the classroom with about ten faculty evaluators, banking on a back-and-forth seminar discussion. Instead, nobody had anything to say, so I was left to loosely summarize the material and riff off of that.

It was a nightmare.

I didn't get the job, probably partly because of that.

Fortunately, I got a different job later, and one I'm sure I like better, but my experience illustrates the dangers of relying on other parties to do their homework.

When you go for your teaching evaluation, make sure that you have the entire hour under your control. Even if you're very good at impromptu classroom Q&A (which I fancy myself to be), put money on diving directly into a lecture if anything goes haywire.

Xenophon said...

"I know lots of people who never got APA interviews."

That actually made me feel good, until I realized you're probably talking about accountants rather than philosophers.

I mean, geez, I've gotten APA interviews. Everyone gets some. It's just a matter of being on the market for n years, right?

(And no, I don't mean Geez the language of ancient Ethiopia.)

Anonymous said...

Re: teaching demos.

I definitely wouldn't send any additional readings (unless this is requested).

Here's some advice:

1. Introduce yourself (!) Make a joke about how nervous you are, or how much you hope the students like you. The introduction and the joke don't really matter - but the short transition does. I've seen candidates launch right into their lecture while the students are still busy settling in and sizing them up. The students miss the first part of the lecture and never catch up - and it shows.

2. DON'T begin by asking if anyone has any questions. I've seen a candidate do this and I cringed. Surprisingly, someone did have a decent question - but it just pulled the discussion away from the material the candidate was supposed to be covering.

3. In the best teaching demo I've seen, the candidate showed basic competence. She organized the material in an interesting way and presented it clearly to the class. The lecture was a bit 'light' for a mid-level course, but nobody cared about that - pitching it that way made it easier for the candidate to get through the material, and we all assumed that the candidate would take the time to go over things in more detail if it were her own course. She engaged the students in the discussion and she responded helpfully to their questions. She came across as confident, but still slightly nervous (with good reason - this was for a good job). (She was eventually offered the job, but declined us for another offer).

4. In the worst teaching demo I've seen, the candidate's lecture was poorly organized - it covered parts of the material, but in a haphazard way that seemed to depend on spur of the moment decisions. She was sometimes dismissive of questions and answers from the students. The lecture wasn't terrible - everyone knows that good lecturers can sometimes be disorganized or gruff. But as a teaching demo it seemed ill-planned.

Michael Cholbi said...

I posted my advice about the on-campus teaching demonstration at In Socrates' Wake:

I agree with most of what's said here, though I would put less emphasis on content mastery than on connecting with the students.

JMc said...

I suggested *asking* about sending ahead reading and actually doing so because at our institution we truly aren't interested in your lecturing abilities because lecturing isn't the sort of teaching we would be *most* interested in a colleague using.

I agree, students aren't likely to do the reading so don't send the reading *and* count on them doing the reading, that'd be foolish. But having a reading to center your talk on. And argument to go through and make sure they understand, particularly if they are able to connect it to other things they've been working on.

Ideally I'd break an hour into 12 minute or so sections. Start out with a 'mini-lecture', break them into groups to discuss questions based on the mini-lecture for 12 minutes and then come back and discuss as a large group what happened in the small group and then spend 12 minutes closing out the session.

Of course, different departments value different sorts of teaching. The best teaching demos at my institutions have been where the instructor worked with a text.

Of course, this is just one institutions, but, not one that's weirdly avant-garde or cutting edge. Just a small department that tries to provide a good small liberal arts experience for students.

Another ideal would be to find out how other courses in the department are taught and then work with that model.

Anonymous said...

@ Xenophon -- no, there are some people who never get an APA interview and I know of at least three, and one was from a top 20 program. Total number of real years on the market for these poor folks: 11

Anonymous said...

"Although interviewing in person feels better than the alternatives, I don't see any reason to think it's better in a way that makes up for its obvious drawbacks. I propose phone/skype interviews or bringing more people in for campus visits."

I was on a screening committee for a TT hire at a CC this past fall, and all I have to say about this is: Bad. Idea. Phone interviews are miserable. Of the phone interviews we did, only one was any good. The rest left us just as clueless about the candidate as we were before, or (in most cases) in serious doubt of their ability to communicate verbally.

Some form of video conferencing may be better/manageable.
And I guess it depends on what the committee is really looking for.

Anonymous said...

I suggest not only sending a reading, but starting the class with a quiz on it. I especially recommend this if you have an on-campus at the same place I do.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 9:28 AM,

I think you left out the crucial third and fourth steps in your suggestion: (1) Assign the reading; (2) quiz them on it; (3) have them sit quietly while you (slowly) grade the quizzes; (4) berate them for how poorly they did on the quiz, harping on the fact that they didn't do the reading.

Stoic said...

I can't help but think that the whole job-process endorsed by the APA is a huge joke. As my friends get on the job market their winter holiday choice seems to be either head home for rest to visit the family, or head to parts unknown and hope to get call-back from a piss-poor job interview situation.

On side note. I've watched our department waste resources going through the APA motions, dragging 3 people back to campus for legal reasons, then hire a good-old-boy they had picked before ever making the job announcement.